Harrison police union, town council spar over department’s next police chief

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In a rare scene, the Harrison council chambers were packed as the local Policemen’s Benevolent Association sparred with the governing body over the department’s next police chief. 

At the meeting, Harrison PBA State Delegate Joseph Nigro said that the union voicing their opinion on who the next police chief should be, as they did in their January 2nd letter to Mayor James Fife, is nothing new.

“As everyone knows, our chief announced his retirement and the council called for a civil service examination. Lt. Dave Strumolo ranked No. 1 by a huge margin. Since before the test was even administered, the mayor and council had given every indication that they intended to promote Lt. Ed Markowski,” Nigro said.

” … Anyone in local government should know that the union’s primary responsibility is to protect its workers and to encourage the governing body to do the right thing.”

On that point, Sgt. Paul Yarznbowicz, a PBA vice president, went on the offensive against Council President James Doran, also the chair of the council’s police committee, for subsequently telling the PBA not to get involved with the appointment process and that any future communications about the next chief of police would be disregarded.

“Councilman Doran further stated that any future communications with the PBA, regarding the chief of police, would be disregarded. Disregarded. Disregard the civil service condition experts. Disregard the police officers whose judgement you trust to protect the community,” Yarznbowicz exclaimed.

” … The mayor and council, you are pressed to explain to the town residents, and the police officers who serve them, their logic behind not choosing the candidate who scored first instead of choosing the one who came in next to last.”

In another letter from the PBA dated January 22nd, Yarznbowicz revealed to Doran the civil service scores of all four candidates for chief.

According to the letter, Strumolo scored 87420, while Markowski scored 81470.

Police Chief Derek J. Kearns, who earned a salary of $165,052 in 2016 according to public records, will officially be retired as of March 1st.

Additionally, Lt. David Doyle, a secretary of the Harrison PBA, urged the council to keep politics out of this important decision.

“Over 97 percent of our police officers are in favor of the number 1 candidate, Lt. Strumolo, being promoted. The reason for this is because the ramifications of not adhering to the results of the civil service test, in our profession, is the gold standard for making promotions,” Doyle stated.

“If these results are disregarded, than every patrolman who studies to be sergeant, every sergeant who studies to be lieutenant, and so on and so on, has to be concerned that the results might be disregarded.”

Doran, who was under fire for the majority of the 20 minutes or so of public comment, eventually responded that there was no frontrunner for the position of police chief at this time and that the elected officials were doing their best to be thorough in their selection.

“It is important for us to look at the career of an officer. An officer’s file is, in many ways, confidential, so now we’re talking [about] that, we’d like to make sure that there’s no civil complaints, that there’s no types of things in the jacket that may not make an individual a good police chief,” Doran explained.

“We want to make sure, that for the residents of this town, we make the best, thoughtful decision. You could have a police chief for the next 15 years … And we didn’t think it was a good idea for the union stepping forward and saying we want to pick our boss. So we just said let us handle the process. That’s what our job is.”

The council took no formal action regarding the next police chief at the meeting.

A copy of the PBA’s January 2nd letter can be read here.

A copy of Doran’s January 12th letter can be read here.

A copy of the PBA’s January 22nd letter can be read here.

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